Federal Drive To Acquire Private Lands Should Be Reassessed

CED-80-14: Published: Dec 14, 1979. Publicly Released: Jan 14, 1980.

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A request was made for an examination of the policies and practices of the three Federal agencies with major land management and acquisition programs: the Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture, and the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service under the Department of the Interior.

The three agencies generally followed the practice of acquiring as much land as possible without regard to need and alternatives to purchase. Consequently, lands unessential to project objectives have been purchased, and often before planning how it was to be used and managed. Government acquisition of private lands for protection, preservation, and recreation is costly and usually prevents the land from being used for resource development, agriculture, and family dwellings. Furthermore, the cost of many projects has doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled from original estimates and authorizations. The Federal Government has no overall policy on how much land it should protect, own, and acquire. Alternatives to ownership could be used to protect land, such as easements, zoning, and other regulatory controls which have proven to be feasible and successful. The use of alternatives would reduce costs to the Federal Government, as well as reduce the loss of tax revenue to localities, allow residents to retain their homes, and keep agricultural land in production with the scenic values protected. While in some instances land must be purchased if they are essential to project objectives, these alternatives could be used where appropriate.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should require the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to report on the progress made in implementing the GAO recommendations. This should include a determination on the extent to which project plans for new and existing projects have been prepared which at least: evaluate the need to purchase lands essential to achieving project objectives; detail alternative ways to preserve and protect lands; and identify the impact on private landowners and others.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should jointly establish a policy for Federal protection and acquisition of land. The Secretaries should explore the various alternatives to land acquisition and provide policy guidance to land-managing agencies on when lands should be purchased or when alternatives should be used to preserve, protect, and manage national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wild and scenic rivers, recreation areas, and others. Further, the Secretaries should evaluate the need to purchase additional lands in existing projects. The evaluation should include a detailed review of alternative ways to preserve and protect lands needed to achieve project objectives. At every new project, before private lands are acquired, project plans should be prepared which: identify specifically the land needed to meet project purposes and objectives; consider alternative land protection strategies; weigh the need for the land against the costs and impacts on private landowners and State and local governments; show close coordination with State and local governments and maximum reliance on their existing land use controls; and determine minor boundary changes which could save costs, facilitate management, or minimize bad effects.

    Agency Affected:


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